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. . . . . . 8 4 Conclusion 9 Page 2 . . . 4 Pre-production Applications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Part Cost . . . 7 Color . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Material Properties . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Veriﬁcation Models . . . . . . . . . . 5 3 3D Printer Performance Attributes 6 Print Speed . . . . . 6 Feature Detail Resolution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Digital Manufacturing .3D Printer Buyer’s Guide Table of Contents 1 Introduction 3 2 What is the right 3D printer technology for your application? 4 Concept Models . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Accuracy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Today. 3D printing technologies have allowed an ever growing number of creators to unleash and multiply the benefits of rapid in-house 3D printing across the entire creation process. Leading companies are now using 3D printing to evaluate more concepts in less time to improve decisions early in product development. to achieve improved performance. 3D printing is enabling faster first article production to support marketing and sales functions. technical decisions are iteratively tested at every step to guide decisions. from initial concept design to production of final products and all steps in between. 3D Printing offers transformative advantages at every phase of creation. and early adopter customers. Today. 3D printing is enabling higher productivity. Page 3 .3D Printer Buyer’s Guide 1 Introduction 3D Printing Has Come Of Age 3D Printing is more than just prototyping. As the design process moves forward. And in final production processes. 3D printing has proven to yield long-term strategic value by enhancing design-tomanufacturing capabilities and speeding time to market. Just a few years ago in-house 3D printing was enjoyed by only a few professional design engineers and was often limited to printing concept models and some prototypes. both big and small. Once considered a novel luxury. lower manufacturing costs. In pre-production. improved quality and greater efficiency in a growing number of industries. Today’s competitive environment makes choosing the right 3D printers for every phase of creation more important than ever. economical customization. delivering higher quality and more successful product introductions.
feature definition. useful life. functional performance. Verification Models As product designs begin to take shape. Stakeholders can better visualize the design intent when they can see and touch alternative concepts side-by-side enabling faster. and outline some key attributes to consider when selecting a 3D printer. Today’s 3D printers can use a variety of materials with vast differences in structural properties. surface finish. part cost and life-like print output. Applications may include form and fit. thermal properties and more. it is desirable to quickly. Verification models provide real hands-on feedback to quickly prove design theories through practical application. 3D printing is the ideal way to evaluate alternative design concepts and enable cross-functional input from all stakeholders to make better choices. Material characteristics. architectural design. designers need to verify design elements to ensure the new product will function as intended. During this early phase of creation. In-house 3D printing allows design verification to be an iterative process where designers identify and address design challenges throughout the design process to spur new inventions or quickly identify the need for design revisions. more effective decision making. and assembly verification to name a few. It is important to first define the primary applications where 3D printing will be used to guide the selection of the right technologies that will provide the greatest positive impact for your business. model accuracy and feature detail resolution are key attributes to consider in choosing a 3D printer for verification applications. For most concept modeling applications the key performance attributes to look for in a 3D printer are print speed. and affordably evaluate numerous design alternatives with models that look like the real thing. footwear or toy. environmental resistance. office accessory. Concept Models Concept models improve early design decisions that impact every design and engineering activity that follows. Selecting the right design path reduces costly changes later in the development process and shortens the entire development cycle so you get to market sooner.3D Printer Buyer’s Guide 2 What is the right 3D printer technology for your application? Choosing the right 3D printer among the various alternatives may at first seem like a daunting task. There are significant differences in how each printing technology turns digital data into a solid object. accuracy and precision. Whether designing a new power tool. This article will highlight some of the common 3D printing applications. visual appearance. but do not typically need to be fully functional. For verification applications the parts should provide a true representation of design performance. Page 4 .
medical instruments. or casting patterns and molds. attention rapidly turns to manufacturing start-up. Digital Manufacturing Some 3D printing technologies can print virtually unlimited geometry without the restrictions inherent with traditional manufacturing methods. materials may need to meet specific biocompatibility requirements. jigs and fixtures to enable early production and assembly of final products as well as end use parts to produce first article functional products for testing and early customer placements. Accuracy and precision are also of paramount importance to ensure final product quality is achieved and manufacturing tooling will not require expensive and timeconsuming rework. Manufacturing costs are reduced by eliminating time and labor intensive production steps and reducing raw material waste typical with traditional subtractive manufacturing techniques. For manufacturing applications the key 3D printer attributes are high accuracy and precision. and reduce production cycle times. to reduce manufacturing costs. and 3D printing can. Lead time for these required items can stretch out time to market. thus providing designers greater design freedom to achieve new levels of product functionality. and specialized print materials specifically engineered for application requirements. For some medical and dental applications. At this stage the functional performance of the print materials is critical.3D Printer Buyer’s Guide Pre-Production Applications As product development converges on the final design. At this stage the supply chain expands with purchase commitments for the raw material and other required components. reduce the investment risk and shorten the time cycle for product launch. Page 5 . improve product quality and performance. enable greater customization. This stage often involves significant investment in tooling. jigs and fixtures necessary to manufacture the new product. automotive and aerospace have adopted 3D printing to produce end use parts. 3D printed components may be end use parts or sacrificial production enablers that streamline the production flow. in a variety of ways. Pre-production 3D printing applications include rapid short-run tools. dental. Leading companies in industries as diverse as jewelry.
This method does not adequately present the true cost of the printed parts as it excludes the support material used. This method is often used for technologies that quickly print a single simple-geometry part. any process waste generated by the print technology. Inexpensive gypsum powder is the base model material that forms the bulk of the part. and other consumables used in the printing process. It is often helpful to calculate part cost based on your own suite of STL files representing your typical parts to determine your expected part costs. This method is usually preferred for 3D printers that have stable vertical build speeds independent from the geometry of the parts being printed and/ or independent from the number of parts being printed in a single print job. print speed may mean different things. or a “typical” part that is an average across a group of different parts. The resulting degraded build speed can slow down the decision making process and defeat the purpose of having an in-house 3D printer for concept modeling. but slow down when additional parts are added to a print job or when the complexity and/or size of the geometries being printed increase. Depending on the vendor and the specific technology. There are significant differences in the material efficiency of various 3D printers and understanding the true material consumption is another key factor in accurately comparing print costs. In order to properly compare claims made by various vendors it is also important to understand what has. so be sure to understand if the part cost provided by a vendor is for a specific part.3D Printer Buyer’s Guide 3 Print Speed 3D Printer Performance Attributes Selection of the right 3D printer is driven by application requirements and matching the key performance criteria that will provide the best all-around value. Page 6 . and has not. While higher print speed is always considered beneficial. Some 3D printer vendors will only include the cost of a specific volume of the print material that equals the measured finished part volume. Here are some specific 3D printer performance attributes to consider when comparing alternate 3D printers. Costs for individual parts can vary widely even on the same 3D printer depending on specific part geometry. The lowest part costs are typically found with powder based 3D printing technologies. 3D printers that have high vertical build speed independent from part quantity and complexity are typically preferred for concept modeling applications because they can print a larger number of alternative models quickly for side-by-side comparisons to accelerate and improve the early decision making process. Part Cost Part cost is typically expressed in cost per volume such as cost per cubic inch or cost per cubic centimeter. Another method to describe print speed is time required to print a specific part or to print a specific part volume. inches or mm per hour in the Z-direction) on a single print job. 3D Printers with higher vertical build speeds and little or no speed loss due to part geometry or number of parts in the print job are ideal for concept modeling because they enable the rapid production of numerous alternative parts in the shortest time period. Print speed may be defined as time required for printing a finite distance in the Z-direction (e. been included to arrive at the part cost estimate. Unused powder is continually recycled in the printer and reused resulting in part costs that may be one-third to one-half the price of parts from other 3D printing technologies.g. Part cost is driven by how much total material a 3D printer consumes to print a given set of parts and the price of the materials consumed. it is especially critical for concept modeling applications.
sidewall quality and surface smoothness. minimum feature size. caustic chemicals that mandate special handling and disposal precautions. This method is labor intensive and can result in damage to fine part features as force is applied to remove supports. pixel size. supports located in hard to access cavities may be stranded and impossible to blast away. Each technology has strengths and weaknesses that need to be factored in when selecting an in-house 3D printer. While these measurements may be helpful in comparing resolution within a single 3D printer type. Accuracy claims by manufacturers are usually for specific measurement test parts and actual results will vary depending on part geometry. Depending on the type of verification testing being done. dissolving or blasting with pressurize water. Plastic 3D printing technologies typically use heat. less expensive support material that is removed after printing by either melting. These printers also typically generate greater amounts of in-process material waste thereby using more total material by volume to print the same set of parts. Also. and bead diameter just to name a few. Material Properties Understanding the intended applications and the needed material characteristics is important in selecting a 3D printer. Most single material 3D printers do not generate significant in-process waste making them extremely material efficient and cost effective. Use of a digital microscope may be helpful when examining parts as these inexpensive devices can magnify and photograph small features for comparison. These technologies typically produce sparse support structures that are easily removed using less material to produce the supports than other plastic part technologies. Removal of the wax supports does not require the use of chemicals and the support wax can be disposed with ordinary trash eliminating the need for special handling. Be aware that some popular 3D printers blend expensive build material into the support material during the printing process to create the supports thereby increasing the total cost of materials consumed during the print. Z-layer thickness. they are typically not good comparison metrics across . These technologies typically use greater amounts of material to print the supports. Melt-away supports can be quickly removed in batches using a specialized finishing oven with minimal labor and no surface force that can damage fragile fine features. Stability of parts over time and across various use environments are not Page 7 Feature Detail Resolution One of the most confusing metrics provided on 3D printers is resolution and should be used with caution. Look for razor sharp edge and corner definition. using materials that are processed from one form to another to create the printed part. This processing may introduce variables such as material shrinkage that must be compensated for during the print process to ensure final part accuracy. Accuracy 3D printing produces parts additively. Dissolvable supports may require the use of strong. compromise in feature detail quality can reduce the accuracy of testing results. The fastest and most efficient support removal is available with 3D printers using melt-away wax support material. so it is important to define your application accuracy requirements and test the 3D printer under consideration using your specific application geometry. the spectrum of 3D printing technologies. Also. Claims about number of available materials should be viewed with caution as that does not guarantee the available materials will provide the real functional performance needed. Some 3D printers provide varying levels of print preparation tools for fine tuning accuracy for specific geometries. It is vital that parts from 3D printers being evaluated be tested in the intended application prior to making a purchase decision. Waterblasting methods require a water source and drain that can add thousands to your site preparation cost. UV light or both as energy sources to process the print materials adding additional variables that can impact accuracy. Other factors impacting 3D print accuracy include part size and geometry. beam spot size. supports can be removed from otherwise inaccessible internal cavities providing the widest flexibility to successfully print complex geometries. Resolution may be stated in dots per inch (DPI). layer by layer.3D Printer Buyer’s Guide Some plastic part technologies use one consumable material for printing both the part and the supports needed during the printing process. The best comparisons are visual inspection of parts produced on different technologies. Powder-based 3D printers using binders typically have the least shrink distortion attributable to the print process and are generally highly accurate. Other plastic technologies may use a separate. When 3D printers are used for verification testing it is critical that the printed parts accurately reflect the design.
allowing the part to absorb moisture potentially causing the part to swell and change dimensions. While HDT is one indicator. They offer easy. Non-plastic materials typically use gypsum powder with a printed binder and result in dense. For concept modeling applications. the combination of two less expensive 3D printers may provide more value than one more expensive system and allow for greater application range and print capacity while staying within a similar investment budget. Some of these 3D printers have multiple print heads that must be fully purged. Combining multiple technologies can provide additional flexibility and expand your addressable applications beyond what can be achieved with a single 3D printer. Materials used for rapid manufacturing applications may need to be castable or may need high temperature resistance to perform in application. FEA results and more. the actual physical properties may be less important than part cost and model appearance. Plastic materials range from flexible to rigid and some provide higher temperature resistance. basic-color printers that can print a few colors together in one part. it does not predict material usefulness in applications that exceed the HDT. Each 3D printing technology is limited to specific material types. and castable plastic materials are also available. color-choice printers that print one color at a time. End use parts will typically need to remain stable over longer time periods. Clear plastic materials. Verification models may need to simulate final products and need to have functional characteristics that closely resemble final production materials. For example. Some 3D printed plastics are watertight while others are porous. logos. Porous parts are typically not suitable for high-moisture applications or pressurized applications and may require further labor-intensive post processing to be useable under those conditions. ZPrinters can apply photos. These inhouse 3D printers offer an expanded range of plastic materials that truly offer the functional performance of ABS. Some materials may have rapidly deteriorating functional properties at temperatures slightly above the stated HDT while another material may have slow degradation of properties thus expanding the temperature range in which the plastic is useful. one commonly reported specification used to indicate heat resistance of a plastic is Heat Distortion Temperature (HDT). The only 3D printers available today that print the full spectrum of colors are the ZPrinters®. In addition to putting life-like colors in all the right places. Another example is the effect of moisture on the part. These parts make excellent conceptual models and provide some limited functional testing opportunities where flexural properties are not required. They can achieve the same type of color on 3D printed models that color document printers display on paper with up to 390. and full-spectrum color printers that can print thousands of colors in a single part. Concept models are primarily used for visual communication and may be discarded shortly after being used. The performance of plastic parts produced on different technologies varies widely and may not be apparent from published specifications. Some 3D printers produce parts that will continue to change properties and dimensions over time or in varying environmental conditions. plastic. Page 8 .3D Printer Buyer’s Guide discernible from standard published specifications and may lead to limitations in actual usefulness if not fully considered and tested. graphics. polypropylene and polycarbonate plastics in a single 3D printer. materials are typically grouped as non-plastic. Your selection of 3D Printer should be based on which material categories provide the best combination of value and application range. biocompatible plastic materials. text labels. New “crossover” 3D printers by 3D Systems combine the proven performance of Stereolithography (SLA®) with the simple usability of in-house 3D printers. The bright white base material combined with exclusive full-color printing capabilities can produce life-like visual models that do not need additional painting or finishing. by 3D Systems. thus wasting expensive print materials in the process. When looking at technologies that claim numerous materials. Often. For in-house 3D printing.000 unique colors and a virtually infinite number of color combinations resulting in incredibly life-like models. and can produce models that are difficult to distinguish from the real product. textures. pay particular attention to material waste that is generated during material changeover. or wax. Color There are three basic categories of color 3D printers. fast and affordable material changeovers allowing one 3D printer to provide a wide range of addressable plastic applications. rigid parts that can be infiltrated to become very strong.
Different applications have unique needs and understanding those application requirements is critical when choosing a 3D printer. so identifying your unique requirements to apply 3D printing across your entire design-to-manufacture process can shorten time-to-market. Multiple systems may offer broader use opportunities than a single system. Page 9 .3D Printer Buyer’s Guide 4 Conclusion 3D printing can offer benefits across the entire creation process from initial concept design to final manufacturing and all steps in between. improve product performance. Learn more about 3D Systems at www.3dsystems. and improve product quality and customer satisfaction will help you define the ideal 3D printing capability for your organization.com. streamline and cost-reduce manufacturing.
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